Surviving Cultural Invasion: Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” and Soyinka’s “The Lion and the Jewel”

     Things really do fall apart when one culture invades another. Nevertheless, when the fragments that have fallen apart come together again, rearrange themselves and join each other once more in a slightly different order, with some foreign pieces as well, a new culture is born. This breaking and joining is a never ending process, and in this process, sometimes certain fragments need to be discarded. Some pieces do not fit into the new structure.

       In Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo is one such piece. He was a fragment that simply did not fit into the new design of society. He fell apart. In the quest of life, Okonkwo had no back-up plan. He was a man who was rooted in traditions and he valued these traditions more than his own life, as his suicide at the end of the novel would prove. His greatest fear was being like his father, and hence to avoid that, he avoided any action that might portray him as a weak man. He detested weakness, in the traditional sense of the word. His only dream was to live up to his own definition of a man, and earn all the four titles that a man could earn in Umuofia. Hence, when he is driven out of his village, he falls apart for the first time. However, he depends on the idea that he can win back the titles when he returns to his own land after seven years, that he can gain back the status that he lost. Naturally, it came as a huge shock when the he discovers that the land he went back to, was not the land he had left. All that was familiar to him was lost. All that made him who he was, no longer seemed important in his own homeland. His identity was lost forever. Despite his male bravado, and despite having the heart to kill his own foster son, he did not have the strength to accept this, and he fell apart irreversibly.

       The culture we see in Wole Soyinka’s The Lion and the Jewel, is at a different stage of invasion altogether. In fact, it may be said that it had crossed the stage of invasion, and was now going through a stage of incorporation. The characters in this play are no longer vulnerable to the invasion. The ones like Okonkwo have already died out, and now the remaining pieces are being glued back together. The people who survived have adapted to the new scenario. They have learned that direct opposition would not win them anything; but with a little bit of luck and cunning, they can easily work their way around it. The Baroka definitely could. He was a truly wise man who knew the extent of his powers. He knew that he was no match for the technologically advanced civilization that threatened his. However, he knew how to survive, and how to keep his own culture alive despite the invasion. His civilization was certainly wounded but it was not dead, and he made sure that it would live on by exploiting the elements of the very culture that he opposed and despised in his heart. Sidi and Lakunle too are forward looking people of the next generation. Lakunle has accepted the new culture wholeheartedly and yearns to be more like them. Even in Achebe’s novel, we see that the newer generation is more accepting of the new culture. They are much more malleable than Okonkwo and the people of his generation and hence they survive. Culture is never a constant thing. As sociologists and anthropologists would agree, culture is always changing; as Rene Descartes commented that you can never step into the same river twice. However, you can survive, only if you can accept that the same river, is not going to remain the same.

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